October 13, 2019

L.A.’s birthday party for Israel

Loving Israel is a given. Celebrating Israel is easy. Talking about Israel is not. And these three themes deftly wove their way through the festivities marking the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Certainly no one expected — or even wanted — serious dialogue impinging on the party scene, but celebrating Israel’s existence without sincere reflection seemed almost pointless.

Credit should be paid to Craig Taubman, the central force behind “Let My People Sing 60-4-60,” a collaborative project that programmed a 60-hour, start-to-finish franchise designed for L.A. Jews to celebrate Israel’s six decades as a Jewish state.

Well advertised, well funded and well attended, “Let My People Sing” meant one of the world’s largest Diaspora communities (including a significant Israeli population) could party like they lived in the Holy Land. With offerings for every age and interest, from the inventive Alternative Israel Expo put on by the Professional Leaders Project to the epic love prose posted on “60 Bloggers for Israel” to the megaconcert culmination at the Kodak Theatre, “60-4-60” demonstrated its attunement to a powerfully pro-Israel community.

Here’s the roundup:

Crushed into the pews of Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church, FaithJam for Israel flexed its interfaith musical muscle when Sukhawat Ali Khan played Middle Eastern Sufi melodies in the same lineup as the COR A.M.E. gospel choir. Although the concert was less “jammy” and more mellow, the drumbeats of Yuval Ron, the vivacious vocals of Alberto Mizrahi and the folksy crooning of Michelle Citrin amounted to a varied, if not slightly mismatched, musical arrangement. A fresh tune from Taubman stood out as a treat, the sweetly tender song providing background music for the passionate choreography of the new modern dance troupe, Body Traffic.

Spirited dancing continued the following night at Friday Night Live, as a circus of people swirled about Sinai Temple.

If success was measured in numbers, Friday Night Live was rich with accomplishment at its grand ode to Israel, but the magnitude of attendance amounted to a melee. Luckily, the ATID after-lounge saved the day when sizzling Israeli superstars HaDag Nachash rocked their reggae-tinged, leftist hip-hop until the wee hours.

Less than 24 hours later, Israel’s fleet of megatalented musicians spilled onto the stage of the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood and Highland, site to some of the biggest bashes in the entertainment biz — from the Academy Awards to “American Idol” — yet the spectacular setting and near-perfect acoustics did little to emotionally energize a packed house. Even the high-caliber performances seemed underappreciated among an eerily apathetic and predominantly Israeli crowd.

Beginning with the compulsory praise of the country, Consul General Jacob Dayan, obviously tired from multiple engagements that week, failed to excite the crowd with what was likely his thousandth speech about Israel that week. Even Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, a remarkable orator, seemed tame as he introduced Kirk Douglas, whose sweet remarks about Israel elicited more an applause of gratitude than an eruption of feeling.

The Keshet Chaim Dance Ensemble opened the performance segment of the evening with a dramatic biblical narrative, “Shuva Israel,” which set the tone for an intense journey into Jewish nationalism. Then Idan Raichel writhed to his own rhythms, gyrating atop the piano bench while his leading vocalists crooned with soul, power and depth. HaBanot Nechama, an all-female trio clad in hippie clothes and wild hair, belted folksy ballads in three-part harmony — a triumph of earthy, natural and glam-free girl power.

The sexy songstress Noa, or Achinoam Nini as she is known is Israel, tried to spice things up with her sultry singing voice, quivering hips and a sheer black shell that showcased her chiseled Israeli abs. She addressed the audience once, channeling John Lennon’s ghost, crooning “love, love, love,” before Rami Kleinstein played piano man, singing his famously beautiful love ballads.

Since celebrity spirit was in the air, Kleinstein unleashed his inner-Roberto Benigni, running through the aisles, standing on top of seats and balcony ledges, snapping photos with fans and bringing the crowd to their feet.